Shelley Evans (Team USA) took the final stage and the overall title as the Women’s Tour of New Zealand wrapped up on Sunday.
Evans out-sprinted Kirsty Broun (Australian Institute of Sport) and Joanne Kiesanowski (New Zealand) to win the closing 35km criterium in Wellington City. It was the fourth victory in six stages for Evans, who also took the first two stages as well as stage 5, a victory that put her back in the leader’s jersey.
“With the help of the Australian national team, we started the race from the gun as fast as we could,” said Evans. “Jessica Phillips got the hole shot and strung the field out for two laps. When the dust settled, there were only about 25 riders left in the front group and we just kept the pace up to ensure that the yellow jersey was safe and Amber (Neben) and I were protected.”
The Australians were focused on the intermediate sprint competition and would take the front for those, then relinquish control of the field to Team USA, Evans said. The New Zealand national team tried a few moves with Kiesanowski and Linda Villumsen, but the Americans were able to cover.
With five laps to go, Neben and Evans hooked up and sat fourth and fifth wheel as the Aussies cranked up their train. With one lap to go, Evans said, “Amber jumped and took over at the front to give me one of the best leadouts I have ever had in a criterium, dropping me off in the final turn three bike lengths ahead of Broun and Kiesanowski. I was clear for the 200m run into the finish and had time to celebrate.”
When the times were tallied Evans had clinched the overall victory, with Neben second and Tiffany Cromwell (AIS) third.
While praising the team for her victory, Evans singled out Neben for special attention.
“Most of all, I want to thank my teammate, world champion Amber Neben, who selflessly rode on the front of the peloton, despite being the race leader, in the last stages of the tour, to allow me to take over in the general classification,” said Evans. “She is a true professional and a class act and I was honored to ride alongside of her this week.”